Are you ready for a Wake County school construction bond referendum in May?
The school board's facilities committee recommended today going with a timetable that would have a May 2013 bond referendum instead of an October 2013 referendum. The reason is that school staff says the earlier referendum would let them get money for projects in July 2013 compared to July 2014 if the wait until an October 2013 referendum.
“We can’t afford to fall a year behind on capital projects,” said school board member Jim Martin.
Don Haydon, Wake's chief facilities and operations officer, explained the reason for the delay in that the next bond would likely raise property taxes. He said the funding would come after commissioners approved a budget that had the tax increase from the bond referendum.
It would be up to the full school board and the county commissioners to set the date of the referendum.
Martin proposed asking commissioners if they'd give the district some of the money for the proposed $200 million bond referendum for Wake Tech that's recommended to be on this November's ballot. Martin said getting some of that money could allow them to push the Wake school bond to October 2013.
In an interview this evening, Commissioner Joe Bryan said no to Martin's idea. Bryan said Wake Tech has a plan for using the money.
Since nothing is on the ballot, it would require d a special election to hold a May 2013 referendum. Turnout could be higher for an October 2013 referendum, but that could get the bond tangled up with next year's school board elections.
It's still early in the planning process. They haven't identified yet which new schools to build, which existing schools to renovate and how much money to spend.
But board members were convinced of the need for an earlier than later referendum after hearing about how growth is picking up in Wake.
Wake is already at 800 students more than projected for this fall with 151,219 registered to attend classes for the 2012-13 school year.
Enrollment is projected to grow by more than 3,000 students a year and could reach 187,000 students by 2020.
It's projected that 17 percent of Wake's students will be in temporary classrooms this fall.
Wake is already 1,000 students over the district's long-range campus capacity for this fall. The long-range capacity reflects the ideal number of modular units that should be on each campus.
The facilities committee is recommending using long-range capacity over annual school capacity, which reflects all the mobiles on site, as the target for the next bond.
A big wild card is how large a bond issue the fiscally conservative commissioners will agree to put forward.
“The bigger the bond, the harder it will be to get it approved,” said school board member Chris Malone.
Malone said he's hoping the leadership of both boards can reach an an agreeable amount. Historically, commissioners have told the school board to come back with a lower amount than what they want.
"The politics of a bond issue in 2013 will be tough," Martin said. "I'm not being naive, but the school system's needs should be above politics."
Bryan said he’d support having the referendum sooner than later. He said commissioners recognize the need to ask voters to decide on a bond referendum that would raise property taxes to pay for school construction.
“We need to start prioritizing our needs,” Bryan said Tuesday. “Education will rise to the top of that list.”